As Old As Time by Liz Braswell

What if Belle’s mother cursed the Beast?

Belle is a lot of things: smart, resourceful, restless. She longs to escape her poor provincial town for good. She wants to explore the world, despite her father’s reluctance to leave their little cottage in case Belle’s mother returns—a mother she barely remembers. Belle also happens to be the captive of a terrifying, angry beast. And that is her primary concern.

But Belle touches the Beast’s enchanted rose, intriguing images flood her mind—images of the mother she believed she would never see again. Stranger still, she sees that her mother is none other than the beautiful Enchantress who cursed the Beast, his castle, and all its inhabitants. Shocked and confused, Belle and the Beast must work together to unravel a dark mystery about their families that is twenty-one years in the making.

I didn’t expect to like this story. Beauty and the Beast had never been my favorite Disney movie, and in 8th grade, I had written a whole paper about fairytales in culture and how Disney changed a lot of the original tales they adapted. Beauty and the Beast was among them. The original tale isn’t great, but in the Beast isn’t exactly awful towards the girl other than keeping her captive (which is still A BIG THING). After writing that paper though, I couldn’t see the Disney film without thinking “Stockholm Syndrome” and how it encourages girls to stay with abusive beasts because they can change.

I also was skeptical because I read this soon after the news of the live-action remake had come out. Why fix something that—by Disney Princess movie standards—wasn’t broken? At least with Cinderella, they “modernized” the story by having Cinderella meet the Prince beforehand so she’s not marrying a complete stranger after just one night. That adaptation introduced issues of its own, but at least it was new enough to separate it from the animated version. Beauty and the Beast, on the other hand, does not need a reinvigoration of its brand. Almost everyone can sing “Tale As Old As Time” and knows that Belle is the only princess who is known to be a bookworm.

Anyway, I read it and liked it. The plot was a lot darker than the Disney movie (it’s tone actually was more reminiscent of the often-bashed Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas which featured an evil organ named Maestro Forte). Mixing with fairies and magic of more traditional fairytales, I was glad to see an original side to the story (although the first part was strangely structured and had me wondering how any of it could have happened if no one in the original Disney movie knew any of this—the answer, the spell cast on Beast’s castle made everyone forget about him and magic).

About the End
The story was interesting and kept me turning the pages even after I had properly guessed who the villain was. The one thing I didn’t like was the very end. Things were going great, certain characters got better endings than they did in the movie (and by that, I mean the villains got better comeuppance in this story), but then the enchantress makes an excuse about not having enough magic to turn everyone in the castle back to being human. She can either turn him human again, or turn everyone else human, leaving him as a Beast. He chooses them (yay, character development!), but I was mad. It felt like the end of Maleficent where they totally changed the end of Sleeping Beauty. I know Maleficent had been trying to replicate the Wicked formula, but what was awesome about Wicked is that it fits into the traditional version because to outsiders, all they see is The Wizard of Oz, but those who know Elphaba’s story can see what was hidden on the other side without breaking the original story.

All in all, despite most of my reservations, I enjoyed this story. I believe I may have even given it a 5-star rating had it not been for that end. But if you like Disney’s Villains books (which includes The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince—though I haven’t read it), and love re-imaginings of fairytales, give this a try.

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